UK surface NO2 levels dropped by 42% during the COVID-19 lockdown: impact on surface O3

James D. Lee*, Will S. Drysdale, Doug P. Finch, Shona E. Wilde, Paul I. Palmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report changes in surface nitrogen dioxide (NO2) across the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic when large and rapid emission reductions accompanied a nationwide lockdown (23 March–31 May 2020, inclusively), and compare them with values from an equivalent period over the previous 5 years. Data are from the Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN), which forms the basis of checking nationwide compliance with ambient air quality directives. We calculate that NO2 reduced by 42 %±9.8 % on average across all 126 urban AURN sites, with a slightly larger (48 %±9.5 %) reduction at sites close to the roadside (urban traffic). We also find that ozone (O3) increased by 11 % on average across the urban background network during the lockdown period. Total oxidant levels (Ox=NO2+O3) increased only slightly on average (3.2 %±0.2 %), suggesting the majority of this change can be attributed to photochemical repartitioning due to the reduction in NOx. Generally, we find larger, positive Ox changes in southern UK cities, which we attribute to increased UV radiation and temperature in 2020 compared to previous years. The net effect of the NO2 and O3 changes is a sharp decrease in exceedances of the NO2 air quality objective limit for the UK, with only one exceedance in London in 2020 up until the end of May. Concurrent increases in O3 exceedances in London emphasize the potential for O3 to become an air pollutant of concern as NOx emissions are reduced in the next 10–20 years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15743-15759
Number of pages17
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2020


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